Finland’s small businesses already hit hard by coronavirus crisis

We talked to three business owners in Kirkkonummi, Helsinki and Porvoo to find out how the coronavirus epidemic has impacted their operations.

File picture of Petter Larsen

Business owners across the country are already feeling the impact on the economy as customers stay away during the coronavirus pandemic.

This week the Central Chamber of Commerce warned that more than 30% of their member companies were worried about going bankrupt and small business owners have been speaking out about those fears, as the Government unveiled a new bailout package that puts an emphasis on getting into more debt to avoid going out of business altogether.

File picture of One Bar & Restaurant, Porvoo

One Bar & Restaurant in Porvoo

In Porvoo the tables are empty at One Bar & Restaurant. The venue only opened in December serving lunch and dinner from a prime location in the town centre but the coronavirus outbreak has forced it to shut at least for the time being.

Although they tried to pivot, and offer takeaway lunches, owner Petter Larsen had to let nine staff members go when it was simply no longer viable to keep the restaurant open.

“We wanted to test for a few days how it is going during the crisis, but we only had five people coming in for lunch. Even going down to one person in the kitchen, and one front of house, we needed 30 customers at least in order to  break even” Petter tells News Now Finland.

One particular point of contention is official advice to people to start social distancing, and avoid going to places like coffee shops, bars and restaurants – but not actually ordering those places to close.

“At One, our whole strategy is built around being in a good location and having Co-Space co-working in the same building, and now the office is closed because we can’t take in people. It’s an impossible strategy” explains Petter who was also counting on the upcoming spring and summer tourist season to grow his business.

“I really hope that the government will make some kind of long term plan. They’re talking about coronavirus going away in the summer then coming back when the flu comes back” says Petter.

“For restaurants tied to tourism, it would really suck if they said everything is fine for summer, but then at Christmas season it comes back again” he adds.

File picture of Marika Kalamees at Beauty Land in Kirkkonummi

Beauty Land in Kirkkonummi 

It’s a slightly different story at Beauty Land in Kirkkonummi ehere owner Marika Kalamees has been surprised at the support she’s had from the local community so far.

“Coronavirus does affect us, because there’s cancellations every day” she says.

“A few days ago I saw that people were afraid to come a little bit, and I posted one video where I told customers that it’s very important that they can come, the cosmetologists are very clean and we are cleaning all the time. We are sterilizing and doing cleaning every day. It’s our usual work” she explains.

After the video posted, Marika saw an up-turn in appointments. She credits the community spirit in the south coast town where she has one of the largest beauty salons, in a prominent location.

“If this was a beauty salon in Helsinki, there are so many people and if you put a video only a few customers will be seeing it, and it won’t be so effective like a small city” she says.

Marika says her insurance should be able to help if the economy gets worse but she doesn’t count on the Government for help, because what’s on offer doesn’t work for her business especially if it leaves her in the position of paying back debt over a longer period of time.

“I don’t want a loan. I want help. The loan is not helping because I have to pay it back” she says.

File picture of Joona Lehto at Vivokauppa in Helsinki

Vivokauppa in Helsinki 

It’s a family affair at Vivokauppa in Helsinki where Joona Lehto is the co-owner of the specialist shoe shop with his dad.

A chef and entrepreneur, Joona has already seen his freelance cooking work dry up with several gigs canceled at gastro fairs in Finland and Germany, and there’s been a big downturn too in the amount of customers at their Vivobarefoot shop.

“We dropped sales quite a bit, in the store in Hämeentie I would say it’s down at least 70% in sales” he says.

Spring time and the months leading up to summer are when Joona would expect to see more shoe sales, as people get out and about to enjoy trail running or hiking. The company has tried to shift to more e-commerce but sales there are also sluggish.

“I believe now the government has done some reforms which will hopefully affect people, and encourage them to buy more stuff” says Joona.

In the meantime they’re running some marketing campaigns on social media, and offering coffee and juice to visitors at the bricks and mortar store.

“We should talk about how important it is to help the small businesses to stay on track. We keep a reasonable profit margin for the shoes prices but of course we need to get some money just to run things. We need a kind of balance” he explains.

“Now it’s just about staying in business, not about making a profit.”